I first became aware of Shakti via the album "Woman Of The Dunes" by Steve Severin. Steve who ? He was the base guitarist with Siouxsie and the Banshees, the last of the original punk bands to be signed to a record label, and coincidentally the one with the longest career. Seeing as I am a huge fan of the Banshees, I have been buying the various solo releases by the members of the band. I have always considered Steve Severin's work the pick of the bunch; the aforementioned album is brilliant, and is based on a very famous 1964 Japanese film of the same name. The actual piece being commissioned by Shakti and the Vasanta Dance Company for a live interpretation of the film.
Now the film has haunted me since I saw it some 20 years ago while I was at University (this was also the same time as I got into the Banshees; yes I was there in '76, although I could never afford bondage pants or safety pins). I still remember the very dramatic photography, especially the storm sequence. I have not seen the film for about 15 years; it is rarely screened which is a great pity. The music by Steve Severin is a very accurate sound representation of the film as I remember it.
Fast forward to this years Edinburgh Festival. Trog was lucky enough to be able to go and see the NYCB. While there I noticed in the festival guide that Shakti would be performing "Woman Of the Dunes". Seeing as I liked the music, I decided to take the punt and go. Quite unusual for me this, seeing as I only really like classical ballet. Well I'm very glad that I did go. The piece echoed the film perfectly. Those images that have been floating around in my subconscious for so long came flooding back. Shakti had a new fan; would I be able to see her again ?
Reading the dance press recently I saw that Shakti was in Brighton performing Swan Lake. I was very curious; how would she interpret Trog's favourite ballet ? Would she dance it alone or be part of a troupe ? (For "Woman Of The Dunes", she had two other ladies.) Well floods permitting I decided to make the trek from Brum and find out for myself. As I journey down I thought a lot about what I might see. I concluded that the Tchaikovsky score would be used, that Shakti would probably be almost naked and that the piece would be very dynamic and interesting. I wasn't sure if I would like it though.
Were my predictions accurate ? Well read on and find out!
It is a medium size venue, maybe seating 500. Pity the crowd is so small, maybe 50 or so. Still more than when I saw her last. The stage is dark, with three crinkled silver sheets hanging at the back. Two others lie lengthways on the floor, one each side of the stage. With a lot of imagination, these look like Japanese blinds. An obvious prop but they do look interesting. Enter Shakti to the strains of the classic score, barefoot, dressed in a black waistcoat, a long black skirt and sunglasses. The opening salvo is fast; it is hard to keep up with all the movements. I have seen dances of this style before as part of a Noh theatre program. (This is definitely not Noh theatre as I remember it.)
Next follows the waltz from the third scene of the ballet. Shakti dances this in a very flowing and graceful way, but punctuates it with some very strong foot stamps. It kind of reminds me of some old Isadora Duncan footage I have seen, but I don't know why. (Well that is the thought that came into my mind at this point.) Shakti has very expressive eyes, flirting with invisible suitors in the wings.
The music moves on to a piece somewhere near the start of Act 2 of the score. Shakti re-enters clad in a black fur coat with white strapless bikini underneath. Her arms contain elements of the classic choreography for the swans, but they do not follow it. The rest of her movements are reminiscent of the supermodel on the catwalk (or do we call it a runway these days ?). The fur is discarded during a strutting walk. Malcolm McLaren would probably call this "the vogue".
Dance of The Swans sees her with the coat as a cape (mysterious and alluring). She performs a sequence of seductive rises here. Later she dons a short white coat for the "hoppy" bit of the music. I gather she is being both the black and the white swan at this point. Dance of The Cygnets looked more like the dance of the demented cat; I felt this was the weakest part of the piece. I guess it was there as this is probably the most famous section of the original ballet.
Next Shakti gets ready to go to the ball as she dons a lace ball gown. She performs the grand waltz with two imaginary partners and uses the screens on the ground for some interesting movements. She is very expressive at this point, especially in the face. Shakti uses her eyes and smile well. The waltz is big, sweeping and very grand indeed. She fills the stage. When the slow movement comes, the pain and turmoil is quite obvious.
There is a long pause during which Shakti is absent. Just at the point you are getting fidgety, she reappears in a black and silver bikini (as seen on the flyer that I picked up while there), wrapped in a black glittery sheet. The music is very dramatic; onto the reprise of the Dance of The Swans and the fight with Rothbart. Is she Siegfried or is she Odette/Odile ? Maybe I am stuck in my ways and she is neither. I had previously asked myself who she was during the flirtatious waltz. The final pose in front of the central screen, arms similar to the "classic" Swan Lake pose, left me in no doubt that I had just witnessed Swan Lake. She voices a series of sighs, each louder than the previous, which I found very effective. Here was clearly the end.
Wait there was more! A piece of techno music starts and Shakti performs a very wild dance with lots of ground work. This is in a direct contrast to the serenity of the Tchaikovsky score. Isn't strange that a story involving the death of a happy couple has such serene and beautiful music ? Anyway I felt this techo piece was padding, even thought I enjoyed her movements I did not like the music. It just didn't fit in with the rest of the piece. It all falls into place with her spoken prologue; "That's my Swan Lake, not very balletic I know". Swans she points out are wild animals; they don't flit about pristinely. They swim in the muddy water, they are a dirty grey and they are down right aggressive during the mating season. Shakti says the white swan represents nature and the black swan the world we inhabit; mix them and you come out a shining silver. "Fly to the sun and fulfil your dreams" she says (or similar words).
Yes the piece works. At 45 minutes it is a pleasant way to part fill an evening. Sexy ? Yes! Worth a look ? Definitely! Sadly I see no performances in the immediate future in Britain. For performance dates, keep an eye on her web site at :- http://home.att.ne.jp/gold/shakti/text/English/engschedule.html